Thursday, September 17, 2015

California Legislature Passes a Death With Dignity Bill

The California legislature passed a bill last week that would allow physicians to prescribe a life-terminating drug for terminally ill patients under certain circumstances. Called the End Of Life Option Act, the bill would require that a person be evaluated by at least two physicians, both of whom would have to declare that the person has less than six months to live. In addition, the patient would have to submit a written request and make two oral requests at least 15 days apart to be eligible for the drug.

The bill was inspired by the plight of Brittany Maynard, a California resident who was diagnosed in January of 2014 with a deadly brain tumor. Surgery to remove it failed, and she was given six months to live. At the time, only three states (Washington, Oregon, and Vermont) had laws that allowed physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to such patients; two other states (Montana and New Mexico) allow it based on previous cases. So Ms. Maynard moved to Oregon where, when she judged the time was right, she died on November 1, 2014. Before her death Brittany campaigned for Death With Dignity laws, including in her original home state of California. The campaign is still ongoing after death (visit her website, At least 15 states are now considering such laws.

Death with dignity laws are not for everyone. They are specifically designed to allow terminally ill patients some control over the process of their own death. They are NOT for just any old person who says they are done with life. Interestingly, even among terminally ill patients who are prescribed life-ending drugs, only about half ever actually use them. Simply having the choice seems to bring a measure of peace to some patients.

California Governor Jerry Brown has not said whether or not he will sign the bill, the final step in making it law.

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